Bob’s Audiobook Report: January Roundup

7 02 2014

Despite surgery, preparing for a move and general life unpleasantness, I was able to listen to a respectable 11 audiobooks at just over 131 hours in January. My priority in January was to focus on some series books that have been sitting on my TBL pile for way to long. I made some good headway into F. Paul Wilson’s Repairman Jack series, completed Ian Douglas’s Heritage Trilogy and rounded that out with a Burke novel. All the books I listened to where backlist novels, except for Myke Cole’s latest Shadow Ops book, Breach Zone and the start of a new series for BV Larson.

Overall, January was tough, but now most of the hurdles have been jumped and I am starting to get the blog moving again. In February, I have a bunch of new releases on my list, including new ones by William Forstchen, Tim Dorsey Jeff VanderMeer and Daniel Suarez. I also plan on continuing my focus on series, with more books by Andrew Vachss and F. Paul Wilson. Expect quick and dirty reviews of the new releases and roundup style reviews of everything else.

Also, sometime in the next month the Audies will be announce, and Jennifer, The Literate Housewife has some fun things planned for The Armchair Audies. This blog will again be taking on the Science Fiction and Fantasy categories. I haven’t decided whether to take on the Paranormal Category. I may wait until the announcement and see how many titles I will need to tackle.

Besides reviews, look for my Top 10 Post Apocalyptic Audiobooks of 2013 Post and some fun Audie predictions.

Here’s the roundup of the books I listened to in the second half of January.

Luna Marine by Ian Douglas (The Heritage Trilogy, Bk. 2)

Read by Ray Chase

Audible Frontiers

Genre: Science Fiction

14 Hrs 57 Min

Grade: B

Europa Strike by Ian Douglas (The Heritage Trilog, Bk. 3)

Read by Ray Chase

Audible Frontiers

Genre: Science Fiction

14 Hrs 23 Min

Grade: B-

The Heritage Trilogy was a whole lot of fun blending high concept space exploration and exogenesis with Military Science Fiction. The book often gets bogged down in concepts, then shift to fast paced action, leaving the listener disoriented. The narration is top notch. Ray Chase is quickly becoming a personal favorite.

Choice of Evil by Andrew Vachss (Burke, Bk. 11)

Read by Phil Gigante

Brilliance Audio

Genre: Thriller

10 Hrs 46 Min

Grade: B+

This edition to the Burke series gives more insight into Burkes past, and the mystery presence of Wesley. The Burke series is one of the more disturbing yet fascinating looks at the darkside of humanity out there. Phil Gigante is excellent as always.

Hosts by F. Paul Wilson

Read by Christopher Price

Brilliance Audio

Genre: Thriller

13 Hrs 13 Min

Grade: B+

Probably wasn’t a good idea to read this one right after surgery. Hosts was one of my favorite Repairman Jack novels so far, blending supernatural and biomedical thrillers.

Also, check out my review of Shadow Ops: Breach Zone by Myke Cole and my Top 20 Audiobooks of 2013.





Audiobook Review: Aftershock by Andrew Vachss

2 07 2013

Aftershock by Andrew Vachss

Read by Phil Gigante and Natalie Ross

Dreamscape Audio

Length: 11 Hrs 2 Min

Genre: Crime Fiction

Quick Thoughts: Aftershock is crime fiction at it best built around a solid cast of characters, with an intriguing mythology. Vachss covers many of his classic themes yet in a way that seems to have invigorated his writing, allowing him to explore these themes in new and fascinating ways. As always, there is a brutal reality to Vachss writing, with unapologetic characters and real human evil, yet Aftershock also contained an element that I haven’t always felt in Vachss writing, hope.

Grade: A

Over the past year or so, I have heard more and more talk about our "rape culture" and the "war on women." Now, in no way do I believe that these concepts weren’t discussed before, perhaps in just as much detail, but the past year I have become more and more attuned to this discussion. I’ll be honest, I*’m not someone who is overly qualified to discuss such issues. I had a grand total of one class in college on woman in politics, and it was more of a historical analysis, and that took place nearly 20 years ago. Yet, I do have feelings. Not many answers, but feelings. I know I have lost faith in our criminal justice system to deal with sexually based crimes. Years ago, I had a friend who was quite upset with me that I wasn’t a strident supporter of Megan’s Law, and the sexual registration of offenders. Not that I didn’t believe in what it was trying to accomplish, I just couldn’t get past the idea that if we need to set up such measures to protect ourselves from habitual sexual offenders, why were we letting them out of jail? I believed then, and I still do that no matter what laws we pass to protect people from predators, those predators will find a way not just to beat but to use it to their advantage. I find sexual predators more insidious, more harmful to our society than murderers. Sexual Crimes cause waves that rip through families, communities and history even more so than any other violent crime. I am not a supporter of the death penalty, but I would much rather see it used on those who exploit children and perform violent sexual assault then those who kill. One thing that truly bothers me is it seems that our criminal justice system is set up more to protect those who perform these acts, then the actual victims. I understand the need for this. I understand that it’s better for 100 guilty to go free than for 1 innocent man to be found guilty. Yet, how many victims of these horrific acts are we willing to accept to make sure we stay true to this founding precept. I have no answers. I just have questions.

When the star softball player, Marylou "Mighty Mary" McCoy walked into her high school with a gun, and shot and killed one boy and wounded two others, people were quick to view it as just another school shooting. Yet, Dolly, a former nurse who worked in war zones around the world, knew there was more to the story. She asks her husband Dell, a former Legionnaire in hiding with a past so mysterious even he can’t remember it all, to look into it. What Dell uncovers is an evil so insidious it has corrupted their seemingly idyllic town, putting everything he loves at risk. I have to say, Aftershock surprised me. When Vachss introduces us the Dell, and his violent back story, I expected this to be another tale of a dark vigilante exterminating a human evil. While this plays into Aftershock, it is far from its overriding theme. Vachss explores the corruption of the legal system that places more value in maintaining its reputation than is punishing evil, and how a few warriors for justice can make a difference.  Dell was a fascinating and complex character. He was unsure and awkward socially, but also able to inspire people to break away from what they believe was expected of them, and do what they believe was right. There were times when the fact that the story was filtered through Dell’s perspective that I became uncomfortable. Not with brutal yet clever solutions to problems, but in his quickness to slap labels on people based on physical and emotions shortcomings. Yet, there was a balance to this. While Dell was quick to label people he found reprehensible as things like "Pigface" he was often able to see past labels people had slapped onto others and discern their true nature, just not often in a polite socially acceptable manner.  The true beauty of this novel came in his other characters. Dell is a warrior, yet, Vachss doesn’t highlight the kind of warrior who can kill a man twenty different ways with his pinky. He highlights a woman who takes time to truly give girls a safe place to discuss issues that their teachers or parents would instantly judge them for. He shows us victims who were brutalized and humiliated, finally taking a stand against a system seemingly designed to marginalize them. He shows us warriors fighting within a corrupt system, whose exposure to violent crime can have extremely horrific affects. From psychologists and social workers, to victims and those who love them whether they are connected through DNA or not, these are the people who could win the fight. Vachss did something that I didn’t expect, he made me feel a little bit of hope that there are good people fighting the fight. On top of these themes, Aftershock is a solid legal thriller. I love legal thrillers, but I have been sick and tired of the down and out lawyer who finds redemption through a case, Here, instead, Vachss shows us a lawyer who finally discovers himself when he is willing to begin believing that he can make a difference. There is just so much I loved about Aftershock, and am quite excited that it’s the start of a new series. Dell and Dolly are two characters I really want to see more of. Aftershock is crime fiction at it best built around a solid cast of characters, with an intriguing mythology. Vachss covers many of his classic themes yet in a way that seems to have invigorated his writing, allowing him to explore these themes in new and fascinating ways. As always, there is a brutal reality to Vachss writing, with unapologetic characters and real human evil, yet Aftershock also contained an element that I haven’t always felt in Vachss writing, hope.

Part of me is really glad that I listened to Vachss’ anthology Mortal Lock before I listed to Aftershock, because it prepared me for the dual narration style of Phil Gigante and Natalie Ross. What I didn’t expect is how effective it would be in Aftershock. Phil was brilliant as always, and his interplay with Natalie was natural and flowing that I didn’t experience any of the dissonance this type of narration often gives me. What truly amazed me was Phil’s handling of the French scenes, which he spoke as if he was fluent in that language. I’m not sure if he is or not, but anyone listening to Aftershock will be more than ready to call him Le Gigante. Ross brought so much to this production, that for those small stretches where she wasn’t contributing I truly missed her. There are so many strong female characters in Aftershock, including Dolly, MaryLou, and a social worker who contributed highly to the defense, and Ross brings them all alive in vivid fashion. Yet, my favorite of her performances was that of Danielle, MaryLou’s sister. Ross helped create a character that simply gave me chills, for many reasons. Aftershock was a brilliant production and one of my favorite listens so far this year. If you have yet to experience the work of Andrew Vachss, Aftershock is a great place to start.

Note: Thanks to Dreamscape Audio for providing me with a copy of this title for review.





Audiobook Review: Mortal Lock by Andrew Vachss

26 06 2013

Mortal Lock by Andrew Vachss

Read by Phil Gigante and Natalie Ross

Dreamscape Audio

Length: 10 Hrs 12 Min

Genre: Short Story Collection (Multiple Genres)

Quick Thoughts: A solid short story Anthology featuring the Vachss signature noir style, fascinating if unlikeable characters and an authenticity you rarely find in the pages of books. Fans of Joe Lansdale’s Hap and Leonard will be excited to see this duo show up for a great story, as well as a few other of Vachss characters. The anthology ended with a high concept screenplay that may not suit even hardcore Vachss fan’s tastes, but has moments of hidden gems.

Grade: B

There are two kinds of experts in our world. There are the kinds that study something, that break it down to its intricate details, who speculate, postulate and theorize. They use this knowledge to develop opinions, join think tanks, become talking heads on TV news programs and teach courses. Then there is the kind of expert who simply lives something. They may not know why something work, or develop their theories based on intangible concepts of instinct, and heart, but while the studios expert is working on the textbook, they are out applying their knowledge, living and dying by their expertise. Andrew Vachss often writes about that second type of experts. One of the reasons I enjoy single author short story collections is to see how an author takes the central themes of their writing, and explores them through different situations and even genres. Mortal Lock is no different. Vachss inhabits his stories with his signature characters. Vachss’ characters are truly what sets him apart. They are never loveable, and often lot even close to likeable, but they bring a perspective that it seems even the most research oriented author often misses. There is something authentic in their reality, even when they are in situations the push plausibility. In Mortal Lock, Vachss’ applies his themes and characters to 20 different stories, some quite short, while others more detailed, giving us a glimpse into worlds that us everyday tourist rarely ever see.

It is really hard to evaluate and recommend a short story anthology, without going into detail about every story. Like in most anthologies, there is a hit and miss quality. There were some stories that were simply quick slices of life, that seemed to serves as buffers between larger tales. This is something I haven’t seen as often in anthologies, and for the most part I liked it. While I didn’t LOVE every story, three of the larger tales truly make this anthology worth the time and money of any Andrew Vachss Fan. For me the highlight of this short story collection was Veil’s Visit, which Vachss cowrote with Joe Lansdale featuring one of my favorite literary dues Hap Collins and Leonard Pine. Add to this the fact that the story was a Courtroom tale where Leonard is on trial for burning down his neighborhood crackhouse, and the legal theory used by the Defense was priceless. The two other stories that I thought were exceptional were As The Crow Flies, which features the protagonists from his upcoming novel Aftershocks and Profile, which has another of Vachss characters, Cross, hunting an online predator. Yet, these stories were far from the only gems. Vachss starts it off with Ghostwriter, featuring a brilliant writer who was completely unlikeable and sociopathic and did whatever it took to see his works come to print. One of my other favorites was A Piece of the City where rival gangs come to blows over and incident that may be more that it seems. Along the way, Vachss gives his twisted take on Crime Fiction staples like spurned husbands and serial killers. Vachss even breaks away from his typical crime noir to expand into other genres, most notably a tale of a Hit Man searching for a cure for AIDS for his dying sister, who encounters monsters of legends. The only downside of the collection comes in the form of the long screenplay that is the finale. Not that it wasn’t interesting and full of some excellent themes and fascinating explorations. I have never been much of a screenplay reader, and experiencing one in audio was interesting. The tales is definitely high concept, extremely visual and very avante guard. It is more of a series of intertwined vignettes told in a Dystopian World were society is now underground. Vachss creates a disturbing system where the establishment allows many types of evils to flourish, the family structure to break down, and truths told through graffiti painted on walls. If such a movie was ever made, it would be more at home next to the subtitled foreign films at The Ritz than at your local Movie Hut. I think Underground is something I enjoyed more considering the aspects he explored later than during the actual exercise of listening. There were some moments where the story was truly fascinating, some hidden gems in the screenplay, but at times it was hard to stay focused on it.

I am typically not a fan of multi-narrator productions where the male narrator reads the male lines and the majority of the prose, than a female narrator pops in for the female dialogue lines. It just never seems to feel natural for me. This process was used often in Mortal Lock, and while effective, I often cringed when it happened. Luckily, the two narrators had an obvious rhythm down, and made it as natural as possible. That really isn’t a surprise, since the narrators were Phil Gigante and Natalie Ross. Phil handled the majority of the work, and was wonderful as usual. In fact, when Veil’s Visit began, I had a huge idiot grin on my face as the familiar voice of Hap Collins filled the cavern within my skull. Gigante has a knack for knowing when to go low key, and when a bit of over-the-top is appropriate. He is the perfect narrator for Vachss, able to capture the dark humor and noir stylings of Vachss writing, while giving his characters a realism that just feels right. This was my first time listening to Natalie Ross, and I enjoyed her work. Surprisingly, I think some of her best work was done during the screenplay, as well as one particularly creepy serial killer tale. She offered a nice counterbalance to Gigante. Overall, Mortal Lock is a must listen for fans of Andrew Vachss. For those interested in getting a taste of Vachss style, Mortal Lock gives a nice spectrum of indulge in.

Note: Thanks to Dreamscape Audio for providing me with a copy of this title for review.





Audiobook Review: A Bomb Built In Hell by Andrew Vachss

13 11 2012

A Bomb Built In Hell by Andrew Vachss

Read by Phil Gigante

Dreamscape Audio

Length: 6 Hrs 12 Min

Genre: Crime Fiction

Quick Thoughts: A Bomb Built in Hell isn’t an easy listen. Its brutal betrayal of a human monster blossoming from the cesspool of the cultural outcast is stark and disturbing. Vachss tells the story with an authentic flair and creates vivid images that will stick with you long after the final track. It may not be easy, but it’s a tale worth experiencing.

Grade: B

Every time I take on an Andrew Vachss novel I find myself thinking about the very nature of evil. As someone who enjoys speculative fiction of the darker variety, horror, dark fantasy, paranormal and apocalyptic fiction, it’s all too easy to put a monsters face onto evil, Throughout history humanity has often tried to put the blame for evil onto supernatural elements, demons, witches and angry gods are just a few examples. This is because most often evil wears a human face. Evil things are done by humanity every day, from the rich and powerful playing games with the lives of many, to adults preying on the innocent, these acts of evil can be brazen, or hidden, but they occur. Andrew Vachss characters are seldom evil people, yet they can do evil things. I have yet to experience the Vachss novel where the main character is truly a hero. Even calling them anti-heroes is stretching things because almost any heroic act is a byproduct of their self interest. Yet, many of them have redeeming qualities. They have their own moral code which they stick to more so than the most pious preacher. They are fiercely loyal to those who have earned their loyalty. In the Burke series, often times Burke and his family of choice will take down the lowest of lows, the predators that prey on those weaker than them, as long as there is a payday in it for them. You may not like what these characters do, or the way the make their ends justify their means, but there is on some level a twisted nobility to their actions. They are not good guys by any definition, but like most of Vachss’ characters they are not evil. Then I listened to A Bomb Built In Hell.

A Bomb Built in Hell starts off with an author’s note talking a bit about Vachss history as a writer, and how this, his first full novel, received almost unanimous rejections from those he submitted to. I can totally understand why this happened. A Bomb Built in Hell is a brutal listen. I have always been fascinated by the Wesley character. I haven’t yet completed the entire Burk series, but Wesley is a sort of ghostly presents that haunts much of the series. He is part mentor, part cautionary tale, and part boogeyman that influences much of Burke’s philosophy. A Bomb Built from Hell is Wesley’s story. It isn’t a Robin Hood tale, of a crook who battles the powerful in the name of the poor, and Wesley is no anti-hero. He’s not even a proper villain. Wesley is a monster in human skin, warped by the system. It’s hard to find a single redeeming quality to Wesley. He kills indiscriminately, and places no value on life. Reading about Wesley is like witnessing a horrific act, brutal, stomach turning but mesmerizing. Vachss details his life in vivid, sickening detail. He tempts you along the way, making you want to feel sympathy for this man, and then smacks you in the face with the essence of the character. Much of Vachss characterizations in other novels creates a character you can cheer for, because despite being villains, they are taking on worse scum then they are. They are the hero by comparison. Wesley is nobody’s hero. He kills the innocent just as quickly as the evil. Even his attempts to do something good are so warped by his mindset that it suffers its own futility. I can’t really say I liked A Bomb Built in Hell because it was an emotionally draining experience. Vachss is a brilliant writer and each step in this novel is executed to perfection. I totally appreciate what he does here, and the time I spent listening was time well spent. I think the most fascinating thing about A Bomb Built in Hell was that it was written back in the 70’s, and while some historic and cultural elements are definitely from that time, Wesley has the feel of the modern day monster.  Vachss details actions by this man that would seem almost ridiculous 20 years ago, but modern day readers will see recognizable qualities in Wesley to that applies to some of our more modern atrocities. A Bomb Built in Hell isn’t an easy listen. Its brutal betrayal of a human monster blossoming from the cesspool of the cultural outcast is stark and disturbing. Vachss tells the story with an authentic flair and creates vivid images that will stick with you long after the final track. It may not be easy, but it’s a tale worth experiencing.

Phil Gigante has become the go to narrator for Vachss work, and that’s a valuable asset for any author. Gigante reads A Bomb Built in Hell with an appropriate low key style that fits this dark tale. There are a lot of colorful characters along the way, and Gigante is one of the best at voicing the various lowlifes, scum bags and human detritus that can populate the dark criminal worlds that Vachss creates. Yet, what Gigante does so well here is the transformational journey that he takes Wesley’s character on. Wesley’s journeys from his days s a young hood, to his time as a soldier, through his prison years being mentored by an aging criminal, to his days as hitman and assassin, and as he moves through his life, Gigante’s portrayal of him morphs. From the eagerness in his voices as he learns the tools of his trade, to the cold deadness of his tone as he moves closer to his fate, Gigante captures each stage in his life perfectly. Gigante uses his voice to paint Vachss dark portrait with such vivid detail that it makes the novel even that much more shocking. Like a musician finally finding just the right song, Vachss world is the perfect fit for Gigante, and together they create something special.

Note: Thanks to Dreamscape Audio for providing me with a copy of this title for review.





Audiobook Review: Safe House by Andrew Vachss

3 09 2012

Safe House by Andrew Vachss (Burke, Bk. 10)

Read by Phil Gigante

Brilliance Audio

Length: 10 Hrs 14 Min

Genre: Crime Fiction, Thriller

Quick Thoughts: While Safe House will probably not be one of the pivotal stand out novels of the series, it is Vachss doing what Vachss does best. Vachss definitely gives us an interesting look of the psychology and execution of predatory stalking with his typical authenticity.  Overall, Safe House was a solid thriller, with some interesting new characters all presented on the canvas that Vachss works best.

Grade: B

A few weeks back I was going through a bit of a book slump. This really wasn’t due to the fact that I was choosing bad books, just that. Due to issues going on in my life, I was having trouble focusing on anything. I had that week pretty well planned out with what I was going to listen to. I actually had some interesting choices lined up. Some new genres and authors to explore. This is something I love to do, take a break away from my traditional choices and try out something new. But, at this time, it just wasn’t working. What I needed were some comfortable pants to slip into. Something where I didn’t really have to work too hard to get into. What I needed to do was return to a series. Something that I already new the characters in and had a good grasp about the themes. I wanted something that wasn’t as much a guilty pleasure, but more something that I can fall into without the struggle. This is one of the reasons I like to find series that I may have missed, I always enjoy long series of novels focused on a reoccurring cast of characters. Some of these, I feel the need to jump on as soon as a new entry is released while others I like to keep around for when I need to find some comfortable pants. This isn’t saying the read is comfortable, just that the characters are old friends, and though they may get into some sticky situations, you can rely on them to act their parts. So, when I was suffering my latest book slump, I picked up Safe House, the 10th book of Andrew Vachss gritty noir crime series featuring Burke and his family of choice. While always dark in nature, Safe House was the perfect solution for me allowing me to jump right into the tale.

In Safe House, Burke once again gets tangled up in other people’s problems that he would prefer to avoid. When an old associate is hired to put a scare into a woman’s ex-boyfriend who is stalking her, the job goes bad and he turns to Burke. Burke discovers a network of safe houses for victims of stalkers run by an alluring woman named Crystal Beth. Yet, a shadowy government agent is putting the squeeze on Crystal and her network, and Burke sees the chance to use the situation to solve his and Crystal’s problems. This edition of the ongoing Burke series is one settled comfortable within the norms of this series. Burke is again working with his family of choice on the dark streets of New York City. It’s a tapestry that Vachss works with well. While the majority of the time is spent with Burke managing his way through a new relationship full of unexpected baggage, the main plot is pretty strong. I really enjoyed the Crystal Beth character, a name that made me laugh on more than one occasion. She was definitely one of the stronger female presences in Burke’s romantic entanglements, and it was nice to see that. The Story took some unexpected twists along the way, but always stayed well within the bounds of plausibility. I also liked the antagonist for this edition to the series. In many way he was the anti-Burke, working the edges but within the system. While Safe House will probably not be one of the pivotal stand out novels of the series, it is Vachss doing what Vachss does best. Vachss definitely gives us an interesting look of the psychology and execution of predatory stalking with his typical authenticity.  Overall, Safe House was a solid thriller, with some interesting new characters all presented on the canvas that Vachss works best.

If you read this blog at all you will know that I am a huge fan of Phil Gigante. As the 10th entry to this series, you know what you are going to get with Gigante, strong noir sty lings and authentic characters. I really liked how he handled the female characters. Gigante has some pretty stock voices for female characters, yet he manages to create delineation among them through the rhythms of their speech. This was especially true in this audiobook. Gigante took two female characters, and gave them both their own lives, while using a very similar base voice. I found it interesting that the dialogue between these characters worked so well. Safe House was a great novel to turn to when I was in my audiobook rut, with both author and narrator doing what they do so well.





Audiobook Review: Blackjack by Andrew Vachss

10 07 2012

Blackjack by Andrew Vachss

Read by Phil Gigante

Dreamscape Audio

Length: 6 Hrs 59 Min

Genre: Crime Fiction… well, sorta Crime Fiction

Quick Thoughts: Blackjack is over the top story telling that defies all of the expectations I have placed on the author. This novel is a game changer for Vachss. While he still brushing with many of the same strokes, he has totally reinvented his canvas. Brilliant and disturbing, Blackjack still lingers with me days after completing it.

Grade: A-

What the crap? No… No… Really, what the crap? OK, deep breathe… Let me explain. I’m not good at building things. Hell, I can barely pull off children’s crafts and popsicle stick houses. Yet, sometimes I manage to build a beautiful box of expectations and place my favorite authors inside them. It’s true. I do that. But really, what the crap? Sometimes an author will tear apart my craftily built box, and break out in a way that I never expected.  I first discovered Andrew Vachss like 10 years ago when I picked up a used copy of his novel Blossom. Now, strange thing, I didn’t remember much about Vachss or that novel. I have vague recollections of enjoying it, yet, I didn’t truly become a fan of his work until I started listening to his Burke series based solely on the fact that it was narrated by Phil Gigante and looked interesting. In fact, I didn’t realize that I had read one of his books before until I started listening to Blossom, and realized I had read this book, and dug it out of my vast paperback collection. So, now, I am truly a fan. At this point, I have listened to about half of The Burke series, and 4 of his standalones. So, with about 13 of his novels under my belt I had him pretty well pigeon holed as a stylish crime fiction writer, whose vivid characters and precise prose pushed right up against the established boundaries. Yet, what I never expected him to do was utterly shatter those boundaries. So, I was ready, in my comfortable shoes, to listen to another solid Andrew Vachss crime fiction tale with characters that are more anti than heroes. Then, suddenly… What the crap?

Blackjack is the start of a new series by Andrew Vachss, and like his popular Burke series it features a cast of characters that make a sort of strange family living among the outcasts of society. Cross’s crew are all broken in some way, a collection of outcasts living within their own existence. Those who join Cross’s crew are required to answer one question, “Do you hate them? Do you hate them all?” I went into my listening of Blackjack cold. I had no expectation except for what I know of Vachss as a writer. It seems Cross and his crew has appeared in some of Vachss’ short stories, but I really wasn’t even aware of that until researching it after the fact. Blackjack is a game changer for Andrew Vachss. He is still brushing with the same strokes, but has totally reinvented his canvass. This is over the top story telling even for Vachss. Blackjack reads more like three interconnected novellas, than one complete novel, and this keeps the reader totally unprepared for where the author is taking them. Again, Vachss explores the very nature of evil. When Cross is approached by a shadowy group to hunt down an almost mythological group of hunter killers, you feel you are on solid ground. Yet, that ground is utterly shaken by what Cross experiences when he goes undercover at a prison that the group believes these killers have invaded. Vachss explore evil in a way that is unprecedented in crime fiction, causing you to question the realities of the genre, because, quickly you begin to learn that this really isn’t crime fiction. This is something else. This is other. Vachss never lets you off the hook in Blackjack. There are no easy endings or pat answers. The characters aren’t forced into any life altering realizations about their existence. This is the truly unsettling thing about Blackjack, while everything you assumed when starting the novel has changed, nothing has really changed. Blackjack, I am sure, will be a very controversial novel in the author’s oeuvre. I imagine many longtime Vachss fans may hate it, wanting the author to stay within the carefully created box they created for him. I for one was mesmerized by the novel. It still lingers with me days after completing it.

Phil Gigante gives another wonderful performance in an Andrew Vachss novel, bringing the gritty setting and offbeat characters to vivid life. Blackjack has a purposefully underdevelopment of some characters that serves the narrative, yet, Gigante manages to pull the pieces of the characters together making them even more memorable than they would feel on print. Blackjack has many mood shifts, with Vachss often giving us a bird’s eye view of his characters from a surveillance perspective, then thrusting us into the midst of the urban jungle, getting close and intimate with the characters. Gigante handles these tricky transitions smoothly, portraying the moods and feel of each setting precisely, never letting it linger too long past a transition. His voices Cross with a strong, yet laid back authority that reeks of pretension, but also displays the defensive boundaries the character builds. I think what truly makes this audio work is that Gigante understands what Vachss is doing, where he’s taking the characters and the mood of the writing and is able to get that across to the listener. Gigante has a relationship with the text, and is able to bring that across in wonderful ways. Blackjack is a tough one for me. I enjoyed it as much as I was unsettled by it. It’s a reminder that one should never get too comfortable in the fictional worlds created by your favorite writers. I am looking forward to seeing the reactions of other fans of Vachss work, as well as those new to him. Expect some good, some bad, and probably just a touch of ugly.

Note: A special thanks to Dreamscape Audio for providing me with a copy of this title for review.





Audiobook Review: That’s How I Roll by Andrew Vachss

19 03 2012

That’s How I Roll by Andrew Vachss

Read by Phil Gigante

Dreamscape Audiobooks

Length: 6 Hrs 44 Min

Genre: Crime Fiction

Quick Thoughts: That’s How I Roll may not be an easy read, but it is a highly compelling work of fiction by a master story teller at the top of his game. Andrew Vachss has created a character that left me conflicted and uneasy, struggling between the horror at his actions and the sense of nobility I felt in his character.

Grade: A-

There is a strange sort of synchronicity that I am writing and posting my review of Andrew Vachss latest crime fiction novel on my birthday. As an audiobook fan and blogger, I often perform an intricate juggling act when choosing the titles I will listen to and review for this blog. While I tend to follow the “listen to what you enjoy” rule, the number of titles I know I will enjoy far outweigh the titles I can actually fit into my schedule. So, when it comes to a choice between two audiobooks, I often will factor in what would most appeal to my small but faithful audience. I know that the majority of my readers are speculative fiction fans. Out of my ten most popular reviews, only one isn’t either science fiction of fantasy. Yet, sometimes, I just have to choose a novel for me. Andrew Vachss is one of my favorite authors, and I would love to be his evangelist pushing all his work, but I never really consider that to be my role. I read Vachss’ work for me. I review his audiobooks because I hope someone on the fence about one of his titles will come to my blog for an honest look at his novels. I know I probably won’t create a host of new fans, and that’s OK. Yet, if I turn one or two people into Andrew Vachss fans, I honestly I feel I have done a good thing.

That’s How I Roll is the fictional first person memoir of Death Row inmate Esau Till, although unlike most memoirs, it is not self congratulatory, nor does Esau apologize, or attempt to justify his many crimes. This memoir serves one purpose, to protect his brother. In his latest no holds barred criminal character study, Andrew Vachss creates one of his most compelling and complex characters. Esau Till’s mind is as brilliant as his body is crippled. Born with Spina bifida into a culture that values physicality above all else, Esau must learn to overcome his abusive past, and genetic baggage to protect not only himself but his mentally slow brother Tory-boy. While this is an unapologetic and often brutal look at the life of a bomb maker and assassin, it is also one of the more touching tales of brotherly love and loyalty I have read. While Esau isn’t a likeable character and I often cringed at the decisions he would make for both himself and his brother, there is a strong sense of nobility that just bleeds off the page. Vachss brings an air of authenticity to how he presents his characters. Both Esau and Tory-boy have defects of body and mind, yet Vachss never uses these as excuses for their actions. In fact, Esau would look at any pity or the use of his disability as justification for his actions with scorn. As someone who has spent a lot of my life around and working with people with disabilities, one line of this novel, although simple, really touched me, “Treating Tory-boy like he was nothing special, was the most special thing anyone had ever done.” Lines and sentiments like this is one of the reasons that Vachss work always resonates with me. He brings a true understanding of his characters, their flaws and insecurities as well as the traits that really make who they are, better than almost anyone else I have read. His characters are never pretty, but they are always real. The plot of That’s How I Roll isn’t full of the game changing twists of some of his other Standalone novels, like The GetawayMan or Shella. Esau’s subtle narration isn’t that of a polished storyteller, but more of a real character, slowly preparing you for the ending you already know, building the layers one step at a time. What replaces the twist and turns of a typical crime fiction novel, is the emotional turmoil you feel as a reader, as you struggle to justify your almost innate desire to view physically handicapped characters with sympathy, with the brutal truths you are being told. That’s How I Roll may not be an easy read, but it is a highly compelling work of fiction by a master story teller at the top of his game. Andrew Vachss has created a character that left me conflicted and uneasy, struggling between the horror at his actions and the sense of nobility I felt in his character.

Phil Gigante narrates That’s How I Roll as well as the majority of Vachss previous work. Gigante is capable of some amazing vocal gymnastics that at times will blow me away, but it’s his ability to capture the edges of the characters that makes his performance in here special. Gigante presents Esau in a slow, straight forward manner that is quite fitting to the character. Esau Till isn’t a man prone to flowery speech. His memoirs serve a purpose and Gigante reads it in a slow deliberate manner as if every word is important. You never feel like the narration is attempting to prove anything to you, just presenting the truth of the situation as purposeful as possible. Gigante displays how important it is for a narrator to understand the characters. It reminded me of one of Vachss past novels, not narrated by Gigante, where the reader seemed to present the character with all the stereotypes that the author was trying to avoid. Although it was subtle, the vocal misinterpretation of a character can drastically change the overall feel of a novel, and this is a trap Gigante never falls into. Gigante reads That’s How It Rolls like the author intended it to be read, and that, to me, is the most important thing a narrator can do,

Note: A special thanks to the good people of Dreamscape Media for providing me with a copy of this title for review. This title will be available for purchase on March 20, 2012.